Antonio Brown and the future of New England coaching

New England Patriots, Patriots Rumors, Josh McDaniels (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
New England Patriots, Patriots Rumors, Josh McDaniels (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images) /

The highly-publicized addition of Antonio Brown to the New England Patriots could represent coordinator Josh McDaniels’ greatest challenge yet.

The New England Patriots officially signed troubled receiver Antonio Brown early Monday for a discounted price of (up to) $15 million dollars, adding to an already impressive roster of offensive weapons on cheap contracts. The deal was expected, as reports surfaced as early as Saturday afternoon that Brown was headed to Foxborough to join Tom Brady and Bill Belichick – mere hours after the news broke that the Oakland Raiders had released him.

Hot takes have been flying around from fans and experts alike, who all either declare that Brown will lead the Patriots to an undefeated season, or that he’ll tear the locker room apart with his bizarre brand of antics and distractions. The general consensus seems to be that Brown will be, for better or for worse, the X-factor for how New England’s season is going to pan out.

I might be in the minority here, but I really don’t think Brown’s influence will change the Patriots; I think the Patriots will change Brown’s influence. This task is mostly up to two men: head coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

Nothing can be said about Coach Belichick’s history of player development that hasn’t been said already. While not every revival attempt has been a success story (see: Albert Haynesworth in 2011), Belichick and the Pats have brought lots of players that were cast aside for their behavior back into the limelight, such as Corey Dillon and Josh Gordon, just to name a couple.

The biggest comparison Antonio Brown has been drawing is to Randy Moss, another superstar receiver who happened to earn a reputation for being a loudmouth distraction on the Raiders. While Brown could potentially reach Randy Moss’ level of success in New England, he could also fall far, far below it.

Brown would normally be another passion project for Belichick, but there’s a catch: Belichick is running the defense in 2019. Of course, he’ll still be the head coach, but offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will likely be the main show-runner of the Patriots offense this year – an offense that just so happens to be one of the most volatile, unpredictable squads in the NFL’s recent memory.

Brady’s receiving corps has entirely changed since the last time he took the field. Demaryius Thomas, Antonio Brown, N’Keal Harry, and Jakobi Meyers are all total newcomers to the Patriots system, and it’s also worth noting that Josh Gordon missed out on last year’s playoff stretch because of his own behavioral issues. Rob Gronkowski retired and left a wake of blocking tight ends to replace him, totally changing the dual tight end dynamic that the Pats thrived on during the 2010s.

The silver lining for McDaniels is the great difficulty that opposing coaches will have preparing their defenses against New England’s evolving team. They won’t be able to effectively study tape of last season’s Super Bowl-winning team, as that was a totally different crew.

Will McDaniels keep using tight ends as receivers, or will he focus on using them as blockers to help the offensive line? Which receiver should draw the most coverage? How will the Pats use their backfield?

These are questions that opposing defenses will struggle to answer all year long, and all eyes are on New England’s veteran offensive coordinator to see if he can solve them himself before his opponents do.

All in all, this is what Josh McDaniels has on his plate for the 2019 season: transforming Antonio Brown into a stand-up New England role model, keeping Josh Gordon’s bad habits in check, helping develop Ted Karras into a reliable replacement for center David Andrews, and establishing an entirely new offensive scheme using brand-new weapons… all while simultaneously teaching that offense to both veterans of the system and to new arrivals on the team.

Robert Kraft, Belichick, and the rest of the Patriots organization have put a great amount of trust in McDaniels, and he has a good shot at becoming Belichick’s replacement one day in the future if he decides to stick around. 2019 isn’t just a make-or-break year for the team and its players; it’s likely the same thing for McDaniels’ career. He has an enormous challenge in Antonio Brown, both in terms of making sure he doesn’t act out and in teaching him an effective offensive plan that fits his abilities.

New England’s past shows the inherent risks in play. Chad Johnson, an egotistical star WR signed by the Patriots in 2011, was able to keep his antics in check but “never got comfortable in the system,” in Johnson’s own words. Randy Moss was a fantastic fit in the New England offense but never really let go of his attitude completely, reportedly leading to an outburst in the locker room and his eventual dismissal in 2010.

dark. Next. Will the Patriots have a 1,000-yard receiver this season?

Josh McDaniels has to hit a 7-10 split in his work with Antonio Brown, making sure he’s behaved while keeping him an All-Pro threat. If he can do this while creating a new, dangerous, Gronk-less offensive scheme, I think he solidifies his shot at being New England’s future head coach.

However, if Brown overrides the team and the offense’s incredible talent is left as wasted potential, the Patriots organization may keep looking elsewhere for the next Bill Belichick.